08 August 2014

What is a General Manager?

One of the most desirable jobs in all of sports is undoubtedly that of General Manager.  A GM is generally responsible for the overall control and direction of the organization, including, perhaps most importantly, the success of the team on the field.  This excites most of us, who look at the landscape and imagine what it would be like for us to have that authority and impact on the game.  So, with an ever growing pool of people who seek to turn this fantasy into reality, who has the requisite education, experience and skills to make their dreams come true?

Longtime NFL writer Pat Kirwan aptly summarized the difficulties of the GM position: “running an NFL franchise isn't easy. Can you evaluate personnel, manage a salary cap, negotiate contracts, select a head coach, handle the media, make tough decisions, cooperate with an owner, deal with the league office and, most importantly, carry out a vision for a winning franchise? If so, then you qualify for the job.”   Owners of NFL Clubs deciding on whom they want to lead their Club must ask themselves some difficult questions: What type of leader do I want? An experienced personnel man that comes in with a proven plan?  A younger coach or scout with less experience but new and fresh ideas?  Someone closer to the age of the owner who can relate to the boss?  Someone who can recruit the best coach possible?  A man who really knows the talent floating around the country in the draft and on the free agent market?  How about a guy with a business-savvy approach? 

The broad scope of an NFL GM’s professional responsibilities can be evidenced by the magnitude of NFL operations.  The NFL and its thirty-two Member Clubs produced estimated revenues of $9.3 billion in 2011, or an average of nearly $300 million per team.   The clubs share approximately 60% of these revenues equally amongst the thirty-two clubs.   Therefore, NFL GMs are clearly responsible for managing high stakes organizations and must make decisions on a daily basis that greatly impact the organization both on and off the field.

Depending on the organizational structure, a GM may have decision-making authority or advisory input in all or most aspects of the Club.  The job description will certainly include football operations such as coach and staff selection, management of scouting departments, contract negotiations and most importantly, player personnel decisions.  It may also include business operational items such as finance, marketing, stadium development, media and community relations.  As the business of the NFL has grown, so too have the legal, financial and operational complications therein. NFL front offices have consequently grown to cover these many areas.  GMs now not only oversee a large, complex network of individuals working in a variety of fields, but must themselves be experts or near experts in those fields.

As you strive to ascend the ladder and make your mark upon the NFL, make sure you have a full understanding of the necessary components of the job and build a well-rounded skill set that will allow you to execute on these functions at the highest levels.  This knowledge rarely makes it to the front (or back) pages and it is important that you absorb as much of it as you can and ask questions whenever you can. 

Stay tuned for more…

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